God has always called upon mankind to worship Him. In Genesis 4:2-4, we have the example of the first two sons offering sacrifices to God. Abel offered an animal sacrifice, which God accepted, and Cain offered a sacrifice of the fruit of the ground, which He did not accept. In Hebrews 11:4, Paul tells us, “By faith Abel offered unto God a more excellent sacrifice than Cain…” We have example of Noah (Gen. 8:20), Abram (Gen. 8:12; 12:8; 13:18), Abraham (Formerly, Abram, Gen. 22:1-13; 33:20), Isaac (Gen. 26:25), and Jacob (Gen. 35:7) erecting altars and worshiping God thereon. Of course, it is well-known that the nation of Israel worshiped God by offering sacrifices on altars.
As we noted, Abel’s sacrifice was accepted by God because he offered by faith. That is, he offered the kind of offering that God required. Malachi the prophet begins his prophecy by rebuking the nation of Israel for their improper worship to God. We will look into Malachi’s prophecy in this article.
God’s Debate With the Priests of Israel
The Lord said to Israel in Malachi 1:6:
A son honoureth his father, and a servant his master: if then I be a father, where is mine honour? and if I be a master, where is my fear? saith the Lord of hosts unto you…
The book of Malachi is written like a debate. I am by no means an expert on debates, but I think this is somewhat how it works in this format. God makes his first affirmative constructive in the form of an accusation against the people and they give their first negative constructive in the form of a question. Then God gives his second affirmative constructive, etc. Here God accuses the priests in His first affirmative constructive, “O priest that despise my name” (Mal. 1:6b). They give their first negative constructive, “Wherein have we despised thy name?”
God gives His second affirmative constructive, “Ye offer polluted bread upon mine altar” (Mal. 1:7). To this they give their second negative constructive, “Wherein have we polluted thee?” God’s third affirmative constructive, “In that ye say, The table of the Lord is contemptible.”
The Lord then gives His affirmative rebuttal in Malachi 1:8, “And if ye offer the blind for sacrifice, is it not evil? and if ye offer the lame and sick, is it not evil?”
The Jewish priests were guilty of offering sacrifices with deformities. They were required by law to offer perfect sacrifices (Lev. 22:21-23; Deut. 15:20-21). They were specifically forbidden to offer animals with blindness and lameness. Yet this is exactly the kinds of animals they were offering.
God asks them a question that brought the point home: “Offer it now unto thy governor; will he be pleased with thee, or accept thy person? saith the Lord of hosts” (Mal. 1:8). It was a rhetorical question! God tells the priests in Malachi 1:10, “I have no pleasure in you, saith the Lord of hosts, neither will I accept an offering at your hand.” Can you imagine hearing those words from God!?
If the priests were offering imperfect sacrifices, they were receiving them at the hands of the people, since the work of the priests was to offer the animals on behalf of the people. So this is an indictment against the people as well as the priests. God refused to accept the worship of the people!
Now consider, does God require anything less than our best from us when we worship Him?
What Kind of Worship Does God Require of Us?
God also requires our best when we worship Him. If He expected perfect sacrifices under the Old Covenant, would He expect anything less under the New, the New Testament of Jesus His Son? Jesus told an audience in Matthew 6:33, “But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.” The Kingdom, the church, should be the first priority in our lives. Why? Paul writes in Ephesians 1:22-23 that God:
…hath put all things under his feet, and gave him to be the head over all things to the church, Which is his body, the fulness of him that filleth all in all.
The church is the body of Christ over which God has made Him head (See also Col. 1:18, 24). Jesus bought the church with His blood (Acts 20:28). We, who have been redeemed by the “precious blood of Christ” (1 Pet. 1:18-19), are members of that body.
We are “bought with a price.” Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 6:20, “For ye are bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body, and in your spirit, which are God’s.” Notice Paul’s conclusion in this verse: “…therefore glorify God in your body, and in your spirit, which are God’s.” Since we are God’s, having been bought with the blood of His Son, we should glorify God! According to Thayer: “To honour, do honour to, hold in honour; to make glorious, adorn with lustre, clothe with splendour.” Our lives should glorify God.
Jesus told the Samaritan woman at Jacob’s well, in response to ). We should worship God with our whole body and spirit. Further, our worship should be according to the truth. Jesus’ answer reveals that it is the kind of worship that is important, not the place of worship.
What Does It Mean to Worship God in Spirit?
Spirit (John 4:24), according to Thayer, refers to “The spirit, i.e. the vital principal by which the body is animated; the rational spirit, the power by which the human being feels, thinks, decides; the soul.” Paul writes in Philippians 3:3, “For we are the circumcision, which worship God in the spirit, and rejoice in Christ Jesus, and have no confidence in the flesh.” So we must worship God with our spirits not just our bodies. Notice the part of Thayer’s definition that reads, “The power by which the human being feels, thinks, decides.” Worship must not be simply actions, but actions that are motivated by our feelings and decisions to give God worship.
Worship according to Thayer was expressed “in the NT by kneeling or prostration to do homage (to one) or make obeisance, whether in order to express respect or to make supplication.”
What Does It Mean to Worship God in Truth?
Thayer writes that truth refers to:
The truth as taught in the Christian religion, respecting God and the execution of his purposes through Christ, and respecting the duties of man, opposing alike to the superstitions of the Gentiles and the inventions of the Jews, and the corrupt opinions and precepts of false teachers even among Christians.
Jesus prayed in John 17:17, “Sanctify them through thy truth: thy word is truth.” So our worship must be done according to God’s word. If our worship is done according to the teachings of a man-made denomination, the teaching of any man, or as we please, that is not worshipping God according to God’s truth!
Some Kinds of Worship Mentioned in the New Testament
The New Testament lists at least four kinds of worship, three of which are not according to spirit and truth.
In Matthew 15:8 and Mark 7:6, Jesus quotes a passage from Isaiah 29:13, and perhaps Isaiah 1:13-15:
Wherefore the Lord said, Forasmuch as this people draw near me with their mouth, and with their lips do honour me, but have removed their heart far from me, and their fear toward me is taught by the precept of men (Is. 29:13).
Notice the last line of that passage: “…their fear toward me is taught by the precept of men.” Obviously not according to spirit or truth!
Paul told his audience in Acts 17:22-23:
Then Paul stood in the midst of Mars’ hill, and said, Ye men of Athens, I perceive that in all things ye are too superstitious. For as I passed by, and beheld your devotions, I found an altar with this inscription, To The Unknown God. Whom therefore ye ignorantly worship, him declare I unto you.
Notice the clause, “Whom therefore ye ignorantly worship…” They did not even know who God was! Obviously not according to truth!
In Colossians 2:20-23, Paul writes of certain ordinances:
Which all are to perish with the using;) after the commandments and doctrines of men? Which things have indeed a shew of wisdom in will worship, and humility, and neglecting of the body: not in any honour to the satisfying of the flesh.
These “ordinances” constitute will worship because they are “after the commandments and doctrines of men,” and, “have indeed a shew of wisdom, etc.
True worship is, of course, the worship taught in the New Testament, by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, for Christians to observe. There five “acts” of worship found in the New Testament: 1) Teaching of God’s word (Acts 20:27); 2) Singing (Eph. 5:19; Col. 3:26); 3) Partaking of Lord’s Supper (Communion – Acts 2:42; Acts 20:7; 1 Cor. 11:20-34); 4) Prayer (1 Tim. 2:1-8); 5) Giving (1 Cor. 16:1-2). To add to or omit any of these five parts of worship is to add to or take away from God’s plan, thus not according to truth. To do these insincerely and irreverently is to fail to worship in Spirit.
One more important point: Worshiping God is not just done in the assembly. It is done every day in our lives. Jesus said, “But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness…” Are you worshiping God in spirit and truth? Or are you offering polluted bread on His altar?